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East Lake High School

Editor's Note: They have the highest grade point averages in their classes, but it doesn't stop there. The Class of 2000 valedictorians and salutatorians also have found time to participate in school clubs, sports and community activities. Over the next several weeks, Top of the Class will pay tribute to these outstanding individuals.

East Lake High School

Valedictorian: Michelle Westhoefer

Plans: University of Notre Dame, Indiana

Achievements: National Honor Society secretary, Mu Alpha Theta, French National Honor Society historian, varsity tennis captain, tennis district champion 2000 singles and doubles, Second Team All County tennis, Academic Letter

Activities: Robotics team, Hospice Teen volunteer with children's program

Best class: AP calculus, because I have never laughed so hard nor have I learned so much.

Favorite book: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Parents: Dennis and Janet Westhoefer, Palm Harbor

If you set your goals high, your standards are going to be that much higher, East Lake valedictorian Michelle Westhoefer says.

"Every kid isn't going to grow up and be valedictorian, but I think everyone has the ability to dedicate themselves and persevere for a goal they are aiming for," she said.

Westhoefer started setting goals in grade school. Her intent wasn't to be first in her class, it was to work to her fullest potential.

"I've always been taught to be the best I can be, not the best everyone else thinks I should be," said Westhoefer. "Also, it's really important to remember that academics are just a small part of what makes a person whole. It's important to be well rounded."

One goal she never set was to be valedictorian.

"I was really surprised," she said. "I never expected it, definitely not. It was always about doing my personal best. I never thought my personal best would be that competitive with everyone else's."

When it comes to getting motivation, Westhoefer says she has her parents to thank.

"They are my biggest supporters," she said. "They listened to my problems, offered ways to help me and encouraged me. If I'm upset about a bad day at school they are always there to listen to me."

In August, Westhoefer will head to the University of Notre Dame to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering, a love she acquired after participating on the school Robotics Team.

This year, she worked on the design and construction of a 130-pound, 3-foot tall robot.

"It really shaped my future," said Westhoefer. "There are so many opportunities out there, especially for girls. It's really exciting that we have the opportunity to bring so much to our future."

Salutatorian: Jean Y. Ko

Plans: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Achievements: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Academic Team, Spanish National Honor Society, Most Academic Senior, Georgia Institute of Technology Scholarship, second place in Academic Team county competition

Activities: Pinellas Youth Symphony, summer volunteer at VA Medical Center at Bay Pines, usher at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Habitat for Humanity

Most memorable school moment: The eighth-grade cafeteria food fight

What impression do you want to leave on others: Hard work and dedication can take you very far in life, and if you believe in yourself, then that is what is important

Favorite books: A Separate Peace and Tale of Two Cities

Parents: Francis and Grace Ko, Palm Harbor

Largo High School

Valedictorian: Nadia Sarmova

Plans: Florida State University, Tallahassee or Stetson University, Deland

Achievements: Senior class president, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Principal's Advisory Committee, Largo High Outstanding Scholar in Mathematics/Science, Student of the Year in math, chemistry and Latin, motivational speaker at countywide PRIDE Award ceremony, Elks and Largo chamber Student of the Month, state swim finalist, basketball captain

Activities: Varsity swimming, varsity basketball, volunteer at All Children's Hospital

Coolest place to be: On stage, in front of an audience or in front of a camera

Favorite book: Tale of Two Cities

Parents: Chris and Kalina Sarmov , Belleair

Afraid, homesick for her native Bulgaria and unable to speak English, Nadia Sarmova started her third-grade year at Maximo Elementary in St. Petersburg after immigrating with her family to America.

"It was hard," said the 18-year-old Largo High valedictorian. "They (the other students) picked on me and made fun of me. And every day when I came home from school my Dad made me work on the English alphabet. I bawled my eyes out because it was so hard for me to learn."

There was no language barrier for Sarmova when it came to math. She loved it and excelled. By the end of fourth grade, Sarmova's language skills caught up to her math ability and the rest of her grades took off.

In eighth grade, at Largo Middle, Sarmova reached her peak.

"From there on I got straight As," she said.

As she entered high school, Sarmova set a goal for herself _ to follow in her mother's footsteps and become valedictorian of her senior class.

"I watched my parents struggle when they came to this country," she said. "In Europe, my mother was an attorney and a judge, and my father was an engineer. But here, they took any job they could get to bring home money to the table for me and my sister and give us a better life.

"It made me realize what is really important in life," added Sarmova. "It is because of them I am as ambitious as a I am. I know what sacrifice is."

Salutatorian: Kaya Blauvelt

Plans: Florida State University, Tallahassee

Achievements: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Senior Council, Principal's Advisory Committee, National Merit Commended Scholar, Spanish III Achievement Award, cross country captain, soccer captain, Scholar Athlete Award, Most Valuable Cross Country Runner, Most Valuable Soccer Player, Sam Walton Community Scholarship, Largo chamber Student of the Month, John Lynch Star of the Month, 21st Century Learning Center Outstanding Student, conference champion in the mile, Florida All-Star Cross Country Team, Pinellas County Senior Soccer

Activities: Largo United Wolves soccer club, tutoring, blood drive volunteer

What legacy do you hope to leave at Largo High?: That I was a good person, not just that I got good grades or was an athletic. The way you treat others is more important than your own achievements.

Most memorable school moment: Laughing hysterically in class at inside jokes with my friends

Favorite books: Catcher in the Rye and She's Come Undone

Parents: Laura and Tom Blauvelt, Largo

Osceola High School

Valedictorian: Eva Austin

Plans: Florida State University, Tallahassee

Achievements: Spanish Honor Society president, Spanish Club president, Mu Alpha Theta treasurer, National Honor Society, Club Millennium senior event planning, flag football team captain, ARISTA academic club, Elks Student of the Month

Activities: Pinellas Association for Retarded Children volunteer

Favorite book: Catcher in the Rye

Best class: AP calculus

Parents: Deborah Austin, Seminole, and James Austin, St. Petersburg

A strong sense of responsibility, paying attention in class and never procrastinating are tools that Eva Austin says helped her earn the spot as Osceola High valedictorian.

"I can't stand putting things off," said Austin. "I never procrastinate. I think that is the most major thing that has helped me do well because I don't study much actually."

It was no surprise to Austin that she earned the title because she was always ranked first in her class. There was, however, some close competition.

"I definitely had to work for it but the others, we were all friends so it didn't make it too hostile in the run for it," Austin said.

Austin started school at Lynch Elementary, moved to Bardmoor Elementary in third grade and attended Osceola Middle.

It wasn't until fifth grade that Austin recognized that she was a little more intelligent than her classmates.

"I think that was when my teachers started to realize it," she said. "Kids used to ask me jokingly, "How much did you pay the teachers to give you As?" That's not really a negative thing. I like people to see me as an intelligent person. That is really important to me."

So is smiling.

"Smiles are definitely contagious. I'm going to have the worst lines around my face when I am old," said Austin. "I always look at the bright side of things and have always tried to be happy and not get mad. And I definitely try not to judge people. I think that is what keeps me happy."

Salutatorian: Jennifer Odermatt

Plans: University of South Florida, Tampa

Achievements: National Spanish Honor Society president, Spanish Club treasurer, Rotary Club honoree, ARISTA academic club, Bright Future Scholarship, homecoming court, prom court

Activities: Students Against Drunk Driving

Favorite book: A Brave New World

Favorite activity: Relaxing on the beach

Most memorable moment: Making it on the homecoming court and being told that I was salutatorian

What impression do you want to leave on others?: I didn't do anything so different than anyone else could do, I just stayed focused.

Parents: Dennis and Sharon Odermatt, Seminole

Up next:Good eatin'

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